Tobacco Companies Immunity from Tort Liability In California

In Richards v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (1997), 14 Cal. 4th 985, the Supreme Court held that to the extent former section 1714.45 afforded tobacco suppliers immunity from tort liability in direct actions against them, on grounds the immunized conduct did not breach a duty or constitute a tort, the statute also precluded indirect assignment of comparative fault to such entities for purposes of Proposition 51. (Richards, 14 Cal. 4th at p. 1001.) Proposition 51 modified the common law rule of joint and several liability by limiting a tortfeasor's liability for noneconomic damages to a proportion of such damages equal to its own percentage of fault. (Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal. 3d 1188, 1192, 246 Cal. Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585.) Although the court found it unnecessary to determine the exact substantive scope of that immunity, it emphasized that under the conditions described by the statute, "a tobacco supplier simply commits no tort against knowing and voluntary smokers by making cigarettes available for their use." (14 Cal. 4th at pp. 1000, 1003 & fn. 8.)